By Brian Tuohy
In case you didn't realize it, the San Diego Chargers were supposed to win this year's Super Bowl. Not because of the quirk related to the Philadelphia Eagles' schedule wherein their opponent in their home opener goes on to be crowned NFL champions (this had happened for four consecutive years prior to this season). No, the reveal for this year's ostensible Super Bowl champion came from a poster on the website 4chan.org.
An anonymous writer stated this past Christmas Eve:
"So I just got laid off from my job at the league [NFL] office last week….The week before Christmas? Are you f*cking kidding me? Whatever. It was a sh*t programming job anyway. I'm just here to say that this year's super bowl winner has already been decided. In fact, it was decided back in May but I guess that's unimportant. The Chargers are winning the superbowl."
"Why the Chargers? Easy. The league wants a new stadium in San Diego. The city and mayoral candidates have already opposed public funding and the spanos family can't get it done by themselves. So they're giving the chargers this superbowl to drum up public support and get a proposition passed and a stadium built..."
The poster was kind enough to confirm the Eagles story as well:
"Oh and the Eagles home opener thing? Yeah that's actually real. … it's [Goodell's] 'easter egg' in every season. Too many people caught on now though so I'm sure the policy will be overturned next season. "
I'm certain at this point you're thinking, "What? Sports On Earth is going to cover random, nonsensical internet posts now?"
No. But there's a point to be made with this: What if it was true? What if that post was in fact written by a disgruntled former NFL employee acting as a whistleblower? Would you have believed it?
Such people are few and far between in the sports world. Yet we need them -- desperately. Not many people know what really goes on inside the locker room, behind closed doors, and deep within each leagues' headquarters. Sportswriters -- even the best of them -- cannot give fans the entire picture, for not one of them has complete access. What's needed is a true insider's perspective. The ultra-real deal.
Unfortunately, when these brave souls do come to the forefront, they're generally ridiculed rather than embraced. That's because whistleblowers do not tell us the stories we want to hear. They reveal the dark side of these sports.
Had Major League Baseball not (as he claimed) blackballed Jose Canseco from the game before he could pass the 500 home run mark, would he have ever written Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big? When the book was released in 2005, he was called "an attention-starved 'roidhead " and "the NonCredible Hulk," among other cruelly inventive names. But history has proven Canseco to be largely correct. It didn't hurt that he truly was the Typhoid Mary of steroids in the game, but without a doubt his revelations altered the PED discussion within American sports.
Five years later, Floyd Landis spilled the beans on his former US Postal Service teammates, including Lance Armstrong. Having been stripped of his 2006 Tour de France win after testing positive for synthetic testosterone, Landis belatedly felt compelled to come clean. He discussed his career-long use of PEDs and revealed all that he knew about other riders' usage, going so far as to send emails to cycling and anti-doping officials the world over. Of course, few believed what this convicted cheater had to say, especially when it came to Armstrong. Lance himself went so far as to claim of Landis's accusations, "I have nothing to hide … It's his word versus ours ... we like our word, we like our credibility." In the long run, Landis was proven much more right than wrong.
Another "cheater" whose potentially damning allegations continue to be ignored is former NBA referee Tim Donaghy. Though he had been one of the NBA's top officials and would likely still be officiating games today had the FBI not interceded, few in the media were willing to accept Donaghy's claims regarding how the league may actually be operating. In a court filing, he stated through his lawyer that officials were directed not to call technical fouls on certain "star" players nor foul them out of a game, and that NBA executives directed officials to manipulate games in order to garner more ticket sales and higher television ratings. Because these accusations were coming from a desperate convicted felon, said the press, he could not be taken seriously. Yet many fans were convinced that Donaghy was being truthful, and controversial results like Game 6 in the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers only appeared to confirm his allegations.
Even the mighty NFL is not immune. The scandal forever known as Spygate began only because Eric Mangini blew the whistle on his former boss Bill Belichick. As an assistant under Belichick, Mangini knew the New England Patriots were recording their opponents' coaching signals. This apparently sat well enough with Mangini until the tables were turned, and as the head coach of the New York Jets, the Patriots' cameras were directed at him. He reported this to the league's HQ, and Spygate blew up, ultimately costing Belichick a $500,000 fine (the most against a coach in NFL history) and the Patriots a first round draft pick.
Amazingly, Mangini now regrets this decision, albeit with a bit of spurious thinking. He said, "This is one of those situations where I didn't want them to do the things they were doing. I didn't think it was any kind of significant advantage, but I wasn't going to give them the convenience of doing it in our stadium, and I wanted to shut it down. But there was no intent to get the league involved." If it wasn't an advantage, then why would Mangini even care? And why would the NFL react as it did? As we've learned since the story first broke, this behavior was endemic within the Patriots organization and without Mangini speaking up, would likely have continued to this day.
But Mangini isn't alone. Jose Canseco also wished he never wrote Juiced and its follow-up Vindicated. He's sorry he named names. But as a fan, I'm not. Not when he's been proven correct. In the case of Canseco, it was vital information in the war against doping in sports that many sportswriters couldn't or wouldn't touch. I'm certain there are many more clean athletes who would love to name names and rid their respective sports of PED usage among other crimes. But they won't.
The problem with whistleblowing isn't just that you have to put your own reputation (and potentially your career) on the line. It's not just the lack of concrete evidence that is demanded by some to back-up these first-hand, behind-the-scenes accounts.
There's just no money in this.
Of the four examples mentioned, neither Mangini nor Landis profited financially from their revelations. Canseco made some money from book sales, but not enough to keep him from taking part in celebrity boxing matches. And though Donaghy did get $1.62 million for his book Personal Foul, that money resulted from a breach-of-contract lawsuit with his publisher, not actual sales.
So where does the incentive lie? Any whistleblower faces ostracization from his sport and ridicule from a skeptical press and public, all while receiving zero financial backing for making the proper choice. These obstructions have certainly stopped more than one person from coming forward. It often comes down -- as in the cases of Canseco, Landis, and Donaghy -- to having nothing left to lose, even if there's also little to gain.
Writers can make all sorts of promises and guarantees to their sources in hopes of getting deeper access for their stories, but some critical information almost always remains "off the record." What remains untold may never see the light of day. But perhaps now, in anonymous posts online, a source can say what needs to be said while avoiding the landmines that await a true whistleblower.
For example, contemplate the following post written on the "Confessions" page of Reddit.com back in October of 2013. Titled "I play professional football, and I despise everything about it," the writer reveals details that -- if true, admittedly a significant "if" -- should make every NFL fan stand up and take notice:
"In case you didn't already assume this, the culture of drug use is rampant. Everyone in the league, and I mean everyone, uses PED's. We have to in order to perform at the level we're expected to perform; it's literally an unwritten, unspoken part of the contract. If someone decides to be captain moral high ground jackass and refuses to use them, they'll end up being marginalized by the coaching staff and looked down upon by the rest of the guys for not contributing in every way they should be, and they may be kept off the field or even forced out of the organization altogether if they're expendable... Nobody questions it, everyone just knows it's what you're supposed to do."
"Contrary to popular belief, the league doesn't test for them, besides a few specific substances, and everyone knows the routine and how to beat it. They don't test for synthetic HGH at all, for example, which is one of the PED's I use."
The revelation did not end there. The poster named "offtherecord1234" continued:
"What I hate most however…is the degree to which games or point differentials are fixed. Everyone knows it happens, but most people aren't aware of how often it happens. It's way, way, way more common than most people are aware of….Once you've participated in it you learn to recognize it. Players laugh about it like it's all a big joke and it pisses me off….This doesn't conflict with the expectation of PED use because generally only "junk games" are fixed because those are the deals players are most likely to take - by that I mean meaningless games between two losing teams, or a losing team against a winning team where the winning team has no competition in their division anyway and wouldn't be hurt by dropping a game."
"I've participated in a couple of fixed games. I absolutely hate myself for it, it is a lot bigger of an issue for me than the PED use. I feel like I am sh*tting all over the sport that I love and it isn't fair to the fans who pay to see what they think is a genuine game. But I also feel like I can't speak up for fear of being marginalized or not taken seriously. I generally despise the league for this and other reasons. All the league cares about is $, they don't care about the integrity of the game. I'm not the only player who feels this way."
I did attempt to contact offtherecord1234 to confirm his confession and see if he had more to add, but got no response. Does this mean that post is a complete fabrication? Judge for yourself. This writer is at least willing to listen.
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Brian Tuohy has been called America's leading sports conspiracy theorist, but really he's just highly skeptical when it comes to what the sports leagues tell their fans. He's also one of the few writers brave enough to tackle the topic of game fixing in sports, detailing evidence of it in his books Larceny Games: Sports Gambling, Game Fixing and the FBI and The Fix Is In: The Showbiz Manipulations of the NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL and NASCAR. He also runs the semi-popular website thefixisin.net.